PowerPoint Tip: Prepare for Problems so you Respond, not React

At a conference in February I heard Bo Boshers share a story of two groups who faced the same situation and had very different reactions. One group saw a potential danger and reacted by running away. The other group had been prepared for challenges and, when confronted with the same potential danger, was able to stand and respond. In this article I want to talk about how presenters should be prepared for problems so when they happen, we respond, not react.

If you are going to do presentations, you will at some point face a problem with the equipment, room, technology, sound system, audience, or any number of possible things that could go wrong. When something goes wrong, will you react and panic, grasping the first thought that comes to you in desperation, or will you respond, having thought through possible scenarios in advance, and handle the situation gracefully? I believe it is your choice.

To be prepared to respond, the first step is to think through what could go wrong. Make a list of all of the potential problems that could happen. Include every horror story you have heard other presenters tell, all the ones you have encountered, and all the ones you think could never happen. Look at all aspects of the presentation, from preparation to travel, to room, equipment, food and any other area that you can think of.

Once you have your list, you should look at how you can mitigate, or reduce the probability of the problem, and what your contingency plan would be if that problem actually happens. Let’s look at mitigating the problem first. Look at ways that you can prevent the problem from occurring or ways to prevent it from impacting the presentation. Sometimes you can’t prevent the problem, like severe weather, but you can prevent it from impacting the presentation by booking travel the previous day so you have time to make alternative arrangements if need be. Other mitigation strategies include using checklists for equipment and arriving at the room early enough to make changes before the audience arrives.

After you have done everything you can to prevent the problem from impacting your presentation, you need to think of what to do if the problem does occur; your contingency plan. As an example, if the projector stops working, you will have to use descriptive language to create a mental picture of your visuals for your audience. You may also be able to use a whiteboard or flipchart if available. As you develop these plans, make note of items that should be included in your preparations, such as practicing how to deliver without your visuals, or arranging for a flipchart to be in the room just in case.

There are literally hundreds of different problems that you can run in to. The key is to be prepared, so when it happens, you respond based on your preparation. If you panic and react by blaming the venue or staff, or you stop for many minutes trying to fix a technical issue, your audience will not leave with a good impression of you or your message. Take the time to prepare and even the craziest situation will not faze you.